Speedway in Japan
Kent Stewart from WA recently visited a speedway with a difference…
I had a fantastic day out at the Kawaguchi Autorace track on the outskirts of Tokyo. We were up here visiting my son and his wife and meeting our new grand-daughter. The racing is really exciting and the Kawaguchi Autorace facility is incredible. The stadium will seat 44,000 people. The track is a 500 metre oval with beautifully sculptured gardens on the infield. They run 8 riders to a race over six laps. You have to see it in person to get an idea how fast they race and how close they are to each other. There’s no brakes but also no slide or wheel spin to slow down for corners like on dirt. You can hear them all throttle off slightly going into the corners then they all wind it on once they’re in the corners. Passing is considered “honourable” on the outside. There’s plenty of track room to do this, with another 10 metres of runoff to the crash barriers which is two thicknesses of cyclone mesh about 500mm apart.
The riders wear what looks like gridiron shoulder armour and coloured shirts over the top of their Kevlar suits. It’s very professional. I didn’t see any crashes or false starts. Races run to a schedule like horse racing. They get warm up laps for the tyres before each race. Then the starts are done off a five second countdown clock. Riders are handicapped at 10 metre spacings but unlike speedway handicaps the back markers don’t get a sneaky rolling start. The starts are pretty awesome and the entries into corners are really fast. No room for the faint hearted. The only downside to the game is that it’s a heavy gambling scene which detracts from the atmosphere. Some people don’t even watch the races, just sit in little theatrettes watching the screens giving the results and odds. As a consequence all the riders, up to 96 of them, are kept in dormitories at the track for the entire four-day meeting to prevent any “tampering”. A bit sad really. They’ve got a bike museum at the track which is really interesting. Most of the engines there have never been seen before. Meguros seem to have dominated the sport for many years but now the dominant engine is the AR600- a Suzuki twin DOHC of 599cc. The bikes themselves seem to be a fairly standard design with diamonds and engine plates like speedway bikes, rigid rear ends and telescopic forks with crazy asymmetric handles bars. They’ve got two speed gear boxes but race in one gear. No total loss lube oil systems for obvious reasons. The frames have leg brace bars on the right side of the diamond to lock their legs in – a guaranteed leg
breaker on ancient speedway bikes. As a consequence they’ve got a strange riding style, seated upright, no left hand peg at all. The museum was fascinating- a collection of bikes back to the pre 1960s. Three different models of Meguros (the oldest two are single cylinder jobs) now made by Kawasaki, Hasekawas, Toyos, SEARs (the AR600), Kyokutos, and one Triumph 600 twin (don’t know where that came from). The older engines are singles, some pushrod types, but they adopted OHC fairly early on. All the modern engines are 600 OHC twins. There are a few mysteries too. There’s a single that had no caption sign on it. It’s got a badge on the cam drive cover with an “H” inside a diamond. Any clues? There’s also a pre1960 Meguro 359cc single – that’s what the caption sign said but some websites show pictures of this engine as a Kyokuto. There is an interesting side story to this old engine. I think it was the same type that was used in Australia in a Hagon short circuit frame. I’m pretty sure Geoff Owens from the St George club in Sydney borrowed one of these engines from his mate, took it to Taree and broke it badly on the start line. Also displayed is a Hasegawa 660cc twin. I think this is the same as the one Barry Briggs took back to England for his collection. And how the Triumph got in there I don’t know. I couldn’t get close to the action for the photos of races I took, but you can see how close it is and the width of the track. When I was up there I wondered how these bikes would go against proper road racing bikes. I soon found out on YouTube (see https://youtu.be/dEYEn_fpv-4). This is an exhibition race with two Suzuki GSXRs off the front row, two Supermotos back 10 metres and an Autorace bike off the back mark. He rounded up the Supermotos in two laps and the Moto GP bikes in 5 laps, all with outside passes, incredible.
Story and Museum photos: Kent Stewart Racing photos: AutoRace .JKA Foundation (Facebook) Meguro 663 engine.
Meguro MF 600 single. ABOVE The mystery engine. ABOVE RIGHT Hasegawa 660 twin. BELOW Lone Triumph among the Japanese bikes. Lean low and left.
Incredible asymmetrical handlebars.